DETROIT -- Deciding which police officers killed in the line of duty belong on a national memorial usually is driven by facts and presents few obstacles. But this year, two cases show that it isn't always so black-and-white to honor the nation's fallen men and women in blue.
This year, the cases of two inductees highlight different challenges facing leaders of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which holds a vigil Monday for 321 officers added to the wall in Washington, D.C.
Det. Sgt. Caleb Embree Smith of the Flint Police Department died by poisoning in 1921, and Wauwatosa, Wis., Officer Jennifer Sebena was shot several times while working last Christmas Eve. Her husband has been charged in her death.
The final decision by the memorial board last month to include Sebena was ultimately unanimous but came after pressure from lawmakers, police and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
The group's board reversed its original rejection of Sebena's bid that was based on the belief that she died as a victim of domestic violence. But after reviewing hundreds of pages of reports, and speaking with the local police chief and prosecutor, the board decided Sebena died in the line of duty and deserved to be honored.
Smith's nomination also received unanimous approval and didn't require a reversal, but the nearly century-old case came with its own shades of gray: He was poisoned, though it was never determined how or by whom. Despite the passing of time, missing pieces and unusual cause of death, the group determined it was a line-of-duty death.
"It would be easy to say OK to everyone," said Craig Floyd, the fund's chairman and chief executive. "We do need to give that wall a certain integrity."
The integrity, Floyd said, comes through following a process and abiding by certain rules, even if it means facing scrutiny, such as with the Sebena case. The nonprofit requires that in order to be chosen for inclusion on the wall, the officer must have died in the course of duty and served directly for a governmental agency with the powers to arrest.
Exclusions include officers who engaged in misconduct or gross negligence, or died as a result of substance abuse or suicide. Still, Floyd recognizes those are problems within law enforcement.
The group considered 632 cases for inclusion this year. Slightly more than half were approved, only 13 were denied, and the roughly 300 remaining await more information or final sign-off by the department or agency that employed the officer, he said.